dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

Why do people say 'after dark' when what they mean is 'during dark'? After dark would be when it's light again, right? * There are 10 types of people in this world -- those who read binary, and those who don't. * I'm rethinking the whole brown rice thing. What if it's just more white liberal self-hatred? Whole wheat, honey, unbleached flour. All better. Sez who? * Eugene should be HQ for White People for Diversity. We'll fight for diversity to be included in books, which is where we know to look for it. * Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, but give a man a pillow, and he'll dream of steak. * What can you say about a state that puts the town of North Bend 225 miles southwest of Bend? We rely on visitors for entertainment.

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Deady’s Different on the Inside. We All Are.

August 19th, 2016 · 1 Comment

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Yale University just completed a “denaming” process similar to what University of Oregon President Michael Schill is contemplating for Deady Hall and Dunn Hall. In predictable academic fashion, Yale found a way to split the difference. They chose to retain the name for Calhoun College, but dropped the traditional title of “master” and replaced it with “head of college” for each of its residential colleges.

Oregon can follow that path by renaming the more recent Dunn Hall and retaining Deady Hall. But there’s an opportunity here to dig a little deeper in a way that both affirms the university’s mission and deeply engages its students.

Everyone agrees that learning without history is nonsensical. Learning is cumulative. It builds on what’s already known. When an instructor designs curriculum to build toward student discovery or a researcher draws on colleagues’ findings to further her own work, each stands on the shoulders of what’s been done.

New work sometimes exposes errors or shortcomings in the old work. Learning progresses when its trajectory is not slavishly linear. Past work is not erased. It is corrected.

Pursuit of knowledge requires modesty. Every theory carries with it an invitation to be disproved or bettered by those who follow. It must be that way, or learning won’t continue. When learning stops, the university will ask only that the last one to leave should turn out the lights and recycle the pizza boxes.

Progressive learning adds context to what is known, by setting it against what was known before. Of all the life skills being taught in schools, contextualizing information is right up there with home economics for basic survival. Context elicits modesty’s cousin, empathy. It’s good to know where thoughts and people are coming from.

Context is what we’ve gained from the scholarly work Schill commissioned to inform his upcoming decision. Matthew Deady “had a very complicated intellect that defies a simple summary,” the analysis concluded.

Exactly. So how can the university promote complicated intellects? Wrestling with conflicting values is at the core of its enterprise. Wherever the past and future meet, the threshold for learning is set.

Sometimes to think outside the box, it’s useful to peek inside.

The most important space inside a building has no space at all. It is a line, or as the mathematicians housed in Deady Hall may insist, a line segment. There’s a line that separates the outside from the inside. Remove that line and the building becomes a sculpture — an entirely different thing.

That line is called the threshold. It brings outsiders in. It sends insiders out. A building’s threshold is like the present moment. Each does not literally exist, except to separate old from new, out from in. The threshold is the teachable space.

Names themselves have a threshold, an invisible line that separates the thing from its meaning. Apple means fruit, but only to those who speak English, unless it means computer. The name changes, but the fruit does not.

Matthew Deady made a name for himself as a judge and a founder of the University of Oregon. But he also was given a name — that same name — by his parents, Daniel and Mary Ann. Each provides context for the other.

Which of those identical names is the one borne by the university’s oldest building? Let us stipulate it is named for the man. Let us also affirm that the man’s reputation is mutable, open to correction and improvement — as everything we learn should be.

Keep the name on the outside of the building, but use the inside of the building’s threshold to convey the ever-changing reputation of the man. Let those who lobbied for the change be the ones to change the lobby.

They may install mock signs to separate students by race. Adorn its walls with Deady’s most damning words. Sign students up for good seats to an imagined lynching.

It won’t settle the controversy. It will perpetuate it. An excellent university must engage young minds and foster active spirits. No one is completely the same, inside and out. Context matters. Schill can open that door to a vital life lesson.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

→ 1 CommentTags: Arr-Gee published · Civic · Deep · Psycho · Simple · Urban Design

Fear of a Hillary Landslide Could Produce a Governing Coalition

August 18th, 2016 · No Comments

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I hope some of Hillary Clinton’s strategy team is planning for a landslide, because everyone agrees that nobody knows what could happen. With the right plan, it won’t matter whether the landslide occurs. The specter of a landslide could suffice.

Her campaign should seize on this universal uncertainty to assemble the governing majority she’ll need to succeed after she’s elected.

In September, when voters begin getting serious, she should release a list of five bills that will top her legislative agenda in 2017, with a promise to add five more in October.

Like the Contract With America, Clinton would be calling on legislators to sign on to her agenda. But unlike Gingrich’s campaign, she would present the program as post-partisan, welcoming frightened Republican lawmakers into the fold. In fact, they would be her primary audience.

If a legislative agenda can get passed with Republicans who worried that Clinton’s coattails could have swept them out of office, that would be better for the country and the president than any scorched-earth effort to exclude Republicans from the agenda.

In the past, this could never have been done during a campaign season because both parties — but especially the Republicans — value discipline and reward loyalty. Those values are clearly losing their grip on candidates, but also on voters.

After this election, who knows what being a Republican will even mean? And if the major political party duopoly ends for the first time since the Whigs were a factor, what will it mean to be a Democrat?

With a healthy dash of magnanimity, Clinton can portray herself to voters as a policy wonk first, and a party loyalist second. Indeed, party discipline was a means to an end. She must convince the country the outcome she values most is not party dominance, but actually getting things done.

The last Democrat to enter the Oval Office without a majority in both houses of Congress was Grover Cleveland in 1885. Each of the eight Democratic presidents since started his first term with Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate. In recent years, that unanimity of leadership has been lost in two years or less. Clinton’s goal should be for it to matter less.

Democrats need 30 seats to flip in the House of Representatives to regain a legislative majority there. The Senate is more within reach, but less valuable without a House majority to accompany it.

Clinton stands a better chance by welcoming political adversaries as governing partners. Voter have taken every recent opportunity to express disgust with Washington, DC. They may not agree whether it’s the federal government’s inaction and overreach, but they’re near unanimous about wanting to see change. A post-partisan governing coalition would address both ends of the political spectrum.

Republican leaders normally would pressure candidates to hew the party line, but that line has gotten awfully squiggly in Donald Trump’s hand. If Clinton reaches out her hand to embattled Republican Congressional candidates, it may begin to look like a life line. Her pledge to them would be only to hold her fire against them, and to say publicly that she can work with either candidate.

If September brings Clinton a couple dozen Republicans to her coalition campaign, October can be spent raising the stakes with additional legislative initiatives being added each week.

Republican candidates who signed on will be boxed in. Will they still support the program’s first five agenda items or renege on their signed pledge? Once they’ve agreed to work with the opposing party, they can’t publicly blanch at the rising price. Not without inviting the focused fury of the Democratic machine in the final weeks of the campaign.

Voters seem to be signaling that their deepest desire is to see government begin working for them again. Backing away from a post-partisan Contract With America, even over issues the voters may be ambivalent about, would be very risky.

But that almost shouldn’t matter to Clinton. As Gingrich showed in 1995, when your personality is less than winsome, keeping the focus on governance will please voters more than if they look too closely at you.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Tiny Stop Signs Are a Huge Mistake

August 12th, 2016 · 1 Comment

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I have a good friend with a practiced reply when people say they don’t like politics: “How do you feel about stop signs?” His rapier point is that every intersection of humanity may at some point require a political intervention. I wonder how he feels about the conditional stop signs that have sprouted up in crosswalks across America.

I think the signs themselves are a patently bad idea. Driving can be strenuous and stressful, so we’ve worked very hard to make certain reactions automatic. Green means go, red means stop. Eight sides also means stop. Except now, all of a sudden, we’re asking drivers to attend to conditional statements that include what we’ve taught ourselves to be a reflex response.

If there’s a pedestrian in view, you must stop until that pedestrian has crossed the street, or risk a traffic violation fine of up to $250. That statement may be true, but it belongs on the driver exam or in the DMV offices; not on the roadway.

It may add some protection for the person attempting to cross the street, but it also may not provide that protection. No pedestrian should rely on an if/then statement of conditional causality. It will always be safer to look both ways for oncoming traffic.

It’s no coincidence that these signs began sprouting from the asphalt over the last half decade. If you spent too much time alone, you could convince yourself that the signs are a distillation of the well-intentioned overreach that happens whenever liberal politicians are given power for too long a stretch.

It surely makes sense to somebody somewhere to install these signs or to provide the funding that makes the signs and their installation nearly irresistible. But that doesn’t mean the urge shouldn’t be resisted. It should. Here’s why.

Have you ever wondered why flight attendants are required to demonstrate how to work the safety belts on the airplane, even if the plane is nearly empty and every single passenger has flown many times before? Studies have shown that people in an emergency can forget that the airline safety belts work differently than the ones they use in cars. Yes, people can actually get stuck in an airplane seat because they can’t remember to “lift up on the buckle to release.” That recent reminder aims to override the reflex response.

When people are panicked, they’re not always who they think they are. A different set of responses take over when survival is at stake. So what’s wrong with being reminded about the law that requires motorists to yield to pedestrians? Isn’t that similar to the flight attendant rehearsing emergency procedures?

Similar, but not the same. I’d have no gripe with the signs if they didn’t include a miniature stop sign in its argumentative statement. The four letters would suffice to convey the information in a way that works in non-urgent situations. The iconic red octagon must retain its visceral urgency to remain effective.

When we see that shape and color, we stop first and ask questions later. That’s how it should be. Now we’re asking every driver to evaluate context and conditions every time they see that red shape. Is it part of a discursive message or is it standing alone without explanatory context? Should I stop or should I ask myself whether I should stop?

Drivers will reprogram their reactions at different paces, inviting new and unnecessary havoc.

I find myself tapping my brakes on Willamette Street when there are no pedestrians anywhere around. Somebody following close behind me might not expect my seemingly random braking. Worse than that, a driver might accidentally blow through a conventional stop sign, because there are no pedestrians in sight, when crossing traffic has the right of way.

Pedestrians certainly need more protection. A dozen pedestrians die every day in traffic accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. A pedestrian injury occurs approximately every eight minutes. This little change in roadway adornment was designed to save lives, but it could end up making things worse.

The solution may be stop signs, but it’s not maybe stop signs.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) blogs at www.dksez.com.

→ 1 CommentTags: arr-gee thumbnails · Civic · Psycho · Pure Pol

Urban Renewal Needs Investment Professionals

August 12th, 2016 · 1 Comment

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The Eugene City Council recently extended the life of the city’s downtown urban renewal district for another few years, focusing spending on four projects: ultra-fast wi-fi for downtown, transforming the old LCC downtown building into a business incubator, updating and enhancing the downtown’s public spaces, and assisting the downtown farmers market.

These are all worthy projects, but they betray a lack of vision for how urban renewal districts can be used to accelerate growth in the city’s central core. Most cities with a progressive governing majority love “tax increment financing” because it focuses funding to achieve tangible — and popular — outcomes.

In fact, the Portland Development Commission (PDC), functioning as Portland’s urban renewal agency, achieved so many outcomes by the turn of the millennium that the organization had to be reined in. Its power coincided with Portland becoming a national darling for entrepreneurs and job-creators. If anything, Portland became too successful, as anyone who has scouted the city for storefront or housing locations can testify.

Eugene is a long way from having that sort of problem, but we are seeing a certain momentum — the technical term is “vibe” — especially downtown. Now would be an excellent time to convince the members of Eugene’s current urban renewal agency to bring in experts focused exclusively the funds available for improving downtown.

There’s only nine things keeping that from happening — the members of the urban renewal agency themselves. They didn’t earn their position by being good financial planners or investment brokers. None of them have accounting degrees. And every one of the agency’s current members is already very busy with other duties.

So, you may ask, why doesn’t the Eugene City Council replace the agency’s current members with professionals who manage real estate, development, affordable housing, and investments all the time? They may believe bad luck could follow from breaking nine mirrors. Since the 1980s, the Eugene City Council has been doubling as our Urban Renewal Agency.

The supposed synergy has economic consequences. Urban renewal funds too often function as an expense account to further the wider goals that the city is pursuing. By contrast, Portland has seen the benefits of having those funds focused intently on growing the district and its future funding capacity.

Take another example. The University of Oregon Foundation is not run by a bunch of professors, even though the foundation’s mission is to further the school’s academic goals. Bankers and investment professionals manage the foundation to earn maximum returns to support the university. Eugene should follow that model.

But how do you get nine public servants, charged to look out for the city and their constituents, to give up some of their power? There may be a way — and one of our former mayors happens to be the one who found it.

Brian Obie built his outdoor advertising empire by offering public transit agencies an irresistible deal. His company would do all the work selling ads on their busses and trains — for free. The agency would get as much or more money to support their transit mission, but without doing any of the work. Obie guaranteed them at least the same revenue, but with less risk and almost no effort.

Obie’s staff would then focus intently on one thing — selling ads. They earned money only by exceeding the transit company’s prior revenue returns. They often exceeded those expectations by quite a bit, making plenty of money for Obie’s company.

Eugene could adapt that playbook for public good, charging a volunteer urban renewal agency to focus only on what PDC, led by Eugene alumni Abe Farkas and Lew Bowers, called “the multiplier effect.”

Only revenues above the current baseline would be reinvested by the agency, but its focus would be squarely on that multiplier. Each dollar invested downtown would be required to return ten dollars to the district. As that multiplier begins multiplying, the baseline give-back would quickly become negligible.

Could Eugene give its staff and city councilors the same amount of money each year to lavish on projects inside the district’s boundaries, while growing the district’s capacity to accelerate downtown opportunities? I’m sure of it.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

→ 1 CommentTags: Arr-Gee published · Chamber · Civic · Simple · You-gene

Politics, Policies, Policing — Oh My!

August 5th, 2016 · No Comments

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Eugene takes a break from politics for six weeks every summer. Eugene City Council recesses from August until mid-September, giving everybody a chance to catch up on other things. After two full weeks of political conventions, we’ve earned that break this year.

Politics has a twin sibling that cannot take a break, or shouldn’t. Policies that spring from political decisions must continue. Politics instigate; policies implement. Here are a few assumptions embedded in our policies that may be worth reexamining.

1. Avoid policy cliffs

We should try to eliminate most of our “all or nothing” mental habits. Lane County could save millions if it closed half its refuse transfer stations. That makes sense on a spreadsheet, but not if you’re stuck with an old mattress and no truck to transport it.

If the spreadsheet people met the bed sheet people, each would see the other’s point of view, and accommodations could be made. The county closed its administrative offices every day for the lunch hour to save money and hurt nobody.

To close a transfer station tomorrow, reduce its hours of operation today. Citizens will tell you that they don’t want to change, but what they’re really asking for is time to adapt. With three years warning, most aging mattresses will be disposed before the commute to the dump lengthens.

Unions rules may need more flexibility to accommodate a broader range of solutions, removing other “all or nothing” obstacles.

2. Bind your future selves

Politicians need better tools for binding their voting bodies to solutions that stretch over longer periods of time. Words alone will not suffice. There are constitutional prohibitions against binding future office-holders, but they can be overcome.

Contracts cannot be broken or renegotiated, as our legislators have learned from the Public Employees Retirement System. Could contract attorneys be deployed to similarly bind the county to close one transfer station every year for a decade, whether they want to or not? It may require an outsourcing contract, but it’s worth a try.

Politicians lose credibility with the public when they trade future pain for present benefit, and then dodge that pain when it comes due. They cannot legally require future politicians to do what must be done, but they can make alternatives more painful than compliance.

As Eugene and Lane County contemplate legacy building projects, they might devise an annuity-style restricted fund, dedicated to paying utilities and maintenance costs over the buildings’ projected life spans. Structures that are well-maintained always last longer, but politicians who fund maintenance over sexy new initiatives may not. A dedicated funding source would protect those politicians from making popular-but-imprudent choices in the future.

3. Question Complaint-Based Enforcement

Policy has a close cousin that deserves attention. “Policing” is how our policies are enforced. Chicago made it a policy to reduce speeding near public parks, and now there are automated speed enforcement cameras installed on streets adjacent to parks across the city. Tickets mailed to vehicle owners could include the statistic of how many children regularly use the particular park they were speeding past.

Chicago hopes to achieve efficient policing through automation. We don’t use cameras for enforcement, and I hope we won’t — for reasons that will have to wait for another column. But what we do instead may be worse. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman once described our enforcement choices as between Big Brother and Little Sister.

More and more of our enforcement strategies rely on complaints — often anonymous complaints. We’ve all heard terrible tales of Germans and Russians spying on one another, building a culture of fear and retribution. It offers a seductive efficiency to government officials. Enforcing only the rules that citizens care about, they don’t bother enforcing many others. “If you see something, say something” encourages suspicion and tattling.

For example, sidewalk signs are not allowed in Eugene, but merchants use them all the time. When enforcement is initiated only by complaints, won’t unpopular (but perfectly legal) businesses be unfairly targeted? Doesn’t that strategy eventually condone “mob rule,” but by another name?

Policing, policies, politics — the swirl slows in August, but it never stops.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Fifth Friday Fulminations

July 29th, 2016 · 2 Comments

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Fifth Friday Footnotes, Follow-ups and Far-Flung Fripperies:

  • We shouldn’t be surprised that people seem less dear and sincere with one another. We’ve stopped writing letters, where those two attributes are repeated and rehearsed.
  • Name a positive spree.
  • You’ve been given 24 hours. You must use them all, or you won’t be given 24 more.
  • At least for the moment, it looks like the only person who can prevent a President Trump is candidate Trump. Fortunately for Democrats, that doesn’t seem unlikely.
  • Cell phone cameras are transforming many situations from he-said-she-said to they-saw-we-saw.
  • It’s time to rotate your tires. You’re welcome.
  • I find it helpful to think of strollers and wheelchairs as generational bookends. They do the same thing for different people. In fact, I think we’d dread old age less if we learned to use those two wheely-words interchangeably.
  • Don’t stop to think how we water our lawns so we can mow them more. Or how we pave streets filled with potholes and then install speed humps to slow drivers.
  • “Stranger danger” is just one of many childhood lessons we overlearned. Another is “always try your hardest.” Driving unsafely when you’re late for a commitment is only one example.
  • In yard sale scheduling, Friday is the new Sunday. Thursday is the new Friday.
  • Which murders are assassinations? There must be a rule.
  • Here’s the simplest way yet to save the Postal Service: penny postcards. Loss leaders work for plenty of businesses, and this one would rebuild a helpful habit and reconnect people. Once people are happy to see their mail carrier again, solutions will emerge.
  • The Whiteaker: a neighborhood where the people are edgy, but their lawns are not.
  • There’s a sometime gap between law and order, where one undermines the other.
  • I’m not usually a pessimist, but I opened a can of soup the other day with an expiration date in 2018 and I thought, “Well, that’s presumptuous.”
  • How long before shoes are no longer sold exclusively in pairs?
  • Handicapped bike parking makes more sense than you think.
  • Class is measured better by what you expect than by what you have. This revelation may be America’s best contribution to economic theory.
  • Quick casual service at coffee and sandwich shops often ask for a tip before the service or product is delivered. Are those tips or bribes?
  • Beauty shared is beauty squared.
  • We confuse comfort with safety.
  • Demagoguery sprouts from a soil of envy, resentment and avarice.
  • Bask more.
  • The recent political bathroom wars offer a perfect symmetry between the left’s love of identity politics and the right’s fear-mongering about government intrusion and overreach.
  • Chronology tells us where to put things. It doesn’t tell us where they are.
  • Can eyeglasses make you more empathetic? You’re always toggling between how the world naturally looks to you and how it looks to others.
  • As we enter another bountiful harvest season, neighbors should gather together to jar, juice, preserve and share what they’ve grown. They’d be enjoying the long-term benefits that come from “putting up” with each other.
  • I miss winter for its beers.
  • Trolls on website comments sections are like modern graffiti artists, but without the athleticism or the derring-do.
  • ASAP was invented (as an initialism) by U.S. military leadership during the Korean War. Its first appearance in popular print was in 1955. Before that, people communicated deadlines with dates and times, not lazy platitudes.
  • Once there are two unrelated tasks to be completed ASAP, one won’t be. That’s not even logic. It’s physics.
  • If you really value diversity, go someplace where there’s nobody like you. Diversity is too often a comfortable concept for people who contribute nothing to it and a discomfort only for those who do.
  • Addled is wrong. It should be “subtractled.”
  • Are there any local restaurateurs willing to help people become more comfortable with strangers? Sunday night meals could be served only “family style” at tables of six or eight. Only the entrees would be served individually. Everything else would be shared, sometimes with people you’ve never met.
  • Rural economies reliant on extracting commodities are falling further behind as we increase efficiencies. Those displaced workers are then too often turning to opioids for relief, which are manufactured most often in cities.
  • We dare one another to finish our portions, as if that’s some sort of accomplishment.
  • I can no longer rely on my chin when I’m fitting a pillow into its case.
  • You’re old when you see an attractive young person and realize his or her parent would be too young for you.
  • Many recent tragedies used to be called “senseless killings.” I’m afraid we’re giving terrorism too much credit — and our own terror too little.
  • Under-ripe avocados are better than over-ripe avocados. There’s a life lesson in that, but I’m not sure what it is. #hassiteveroccurredtoyou
  • People crave certainty, but only for what it gives them: comfort.
  • Autists remind us how often we use language less than literally. Just one example: “When is your next birthday?”(You have only one, and that day is in the past.)
  • Pop quiz: Name the last Democratic President to enter the Oval Office without a majority in both the House and Senate. Answer: Grover Cleveland (1884)
  • Hashtags work like comedic rim shots. #dontgiveitaway
  • Just so you know, “want” entered our language as a noun, meaning “lack” in Old Norse and Middle English. When it became also a verb, we changed more than it did.
  • When is a jig anything but up?
  • GOP: Winning trumps all. Trump’s winning all.
  • How long before somebody combines a puzzle room with an airbnb lodging? “Solve these riddles to gain access to the bedroom. Or sleep on the floor.”
  • I hope NBA announcers are spending their off-season rehearsing new ways to describe three-point shots. It’s time to retire “from downtown.”
  • When somebody says we have to uproot terrorism or cynicism or anything else, check to see if they have dirt under their fingernails.
  • How do bicyclists stay liberal without listening to NPR at stop lights?
  • Could somebody please explain to me why Eugene doesn’t have a marijuana dispensary at 420 High Street?

==
Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

→ 2 CommentsTags: Arr-Gee published · Grins · Quips

“Stranger Danger” Fans Our Fears

July 22nd, 2016 · 3 Comments

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The world seems to be coming apart at the seams, so the question we should each be asking ourselves is how can we not follow that trend? It’s not that hard. You’re safer than you think.

You’re never completely safe. Eliminating every risk is impossible. Caskets offer something close to absolute security, until bugs eventually intrude or an asteroid careens our planet out of its temperate orbit.

After you die, your body is not completely protected. It’s just that you care less. Our challenge today is grounded in the opposite condition. We’re being trained to care so much that anxiety colors our everyday activities. Whenever that happens, as the saying unfortunately goes, terrorism wins.

Until the early 1960s, television network news was only 15 minutes long every weeknight. Walter Cronkite pushed for it to be doubled in response to Martin Luther King’s March on Washington in 1963. News has been expanding ever since. Well, no. News hasn’t expanded. News coverage has expanded. We have 24-hour news networks now, but not enough news to fill them, so stories — especially sensational ones — are endlessly repeated.

As a former editor at The Register-Guard liked to remind audiences, when 999 airplanes land safely, that’s not news. When one doesn’t, it is. But we’re not reminded about the 999 when we’re told about the one.

You may have heard the adage that governs many a newsroom: “If it bleeds, it leads.” Fear captures attention better than anything else. Advertisers like that. Changing the channel of turning it off is getting harder.

News consumption is no longer limited to appointment viewing or our daily commute. We may get pinged with a news alert on our phones while hiking in the wilderness. News often pops up while we’re checking a recipe or looking at a relative’s vacation photos.

So our dilemma is defined.

The news we’re told is mostly bad, shorn of context and unavoidable.

What can we do to remind ourselves of all the good that makes the occasional bad so notable? I have a few suggestions, all aiming to overcome the “stranger danger” fear instilled in us when we were young.

Pick from this menu or make up your own. Each sounds a little bit frightening, but that’s the stranger danger reflex speaking.

My most ambitious suggestion is simpler than you would guess. Become an airbnb host. Or use airbnb or some other home stay alternative the next time you travel. I’ve done both and this is what I’ve learned. Almost everybody you meet is normal, considerate, even sometimes delightful.

Yes, there are occasional hiccups. There was the guest who asked for the wifi to be turned off because she was “very sensitive.” There was the chap who requested his sheets be washed twice with unscented detergent before he arrived. Or the fellow who wandered into our living room, asking if he could use our computer printer.

But those memorable few are vastly outnumbered by the people who are thoughtful and generous, respectful, helpful and grateful.

If that sounds too ambitious for you, try this. Use this newspaper’s classified ads (or Craig’s List, if you prefer) to buy or sell something not too expensive — a coffee pot, a bedspread, a tent, a bicycle. You’ll meet strangers who may have nothing in common with you except the thing that was listed. If the exchange proceeds, a need will be met between two people who don’t know one another. Almost certainly, nothing bad will happen.

Here’s the simplest one, and you may already be doing it every day. Ride an elevator with somebody you don’t know. While you’re doing it, remind yourself how risky it is to be enclosed in a metal box with people you don’t know. They could pull that red button and stop the car between floors. But they don’t. Over and over, day in and day out.

That’s what life is really like. Life resembles that elevator ride much more than anything you’re likely to see on the news. We can’t do much to mend the world’s seams, but we can change for ourselves how the world seems.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

→ 3 CommentsTags: Arr-Gee published · Civic · Deep · Media · Psycho

New Media is Growing Up

July 21st, 2016 · 1 Comment

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Don’t look now, but so-called New Media is growing up and it’s helping traditional media outlets stake a better future for themselves. Facebook, Twitter, Apple’s FaceTime, and even video games have begun making positive contributions that cannot yet be calculated.

Facebook Live was rolled out to users only a couple of months ago, but it’s already having an impact. Twice in the past few weeks, police have been caught on cell phone cameras shooting unarmed black men. In at least one case, the officer’s body cam had mysteriously malfunctioned just before the incident. In other cases, official video recordings must pass internal review before it’s released to the public, and that often takes months.

But now, because a passenger or passerby has a phone and Facebook already in hand, immediate recordings can be posted for all to see. “He said, she said” has been transformed into “they saw, we saw.” This undoubtedly will have some unpleasant consequences, but a society that claims to value openness just became more open.

Sometimes that commitment to openness is less than sincere. When Democrats in Congress staged a sit-in to promote gun control, Republican leaders gaveled the session closed, which effectively cut C-Span’s broadcast of the protest. When members of Congress began live-streaming the protest using their phones, C-Span showed those feeds to its viewers.

Turkey’s president was vacationing when a coup attempted to depose him last week. Rebels had taken control of the state-run television station, so President Erdogan used his iPhone’s video chat feature to address the country. CNN filmed the picture streaming on a phone.

The same day, an American presidential candidate announced his running mate on Twitter, half a day before the official news conference.

I had an encouraging experience myself with Facebook in the past two weeks. After I wrote a column about the Lane County Commissioners contemplating a law that would give them the authority to block any initiative petition they deemed “not of county interest,” one commissioner posted a clarification on my Facebook wall.

That prompted several clarifications of the clarification from other Facebook friends of mine — an attorney, a law professor, and a judge. I don’t know if their responses will be ultimately helpful, but I tagged each of the county commissioners to be sure they could benefit from insights that were definitely above my pay grade.

If I had to read about what my friends had for lunch for a decade before Facebook matured enough to exchange substantive information between friends of friends, maybe it was worth it.

And then there’s Pokemon Go, which is as silly as every other video game, except for three things. This game cannot be played sitting still. It uses the smart phone GPS function to reward those who travel great distances. My son has walked 70 kilometers in the past two weeks, playing the game.

He’s not walking in circles. The game uses real-world landmarks, inserting a layer of critters and lures and hints. It uses “augmented reality,” making it less escapist than its predecessors.

Players are outside, playing the game, talking to one another, sharing and cooperating. People who don’t know each other are helping one another. That’s the part of our reality that most needs augmenting.

Meanwhile, traditional media outlets are not standing still. Newspapers in particular are transforming themselves into media companies, competing for breaking news and providing copious listings that never could have been affordable when they were limited to tossing newsprint on doorsteps once a day.

Investigative journalism in particular may be undergoing an important renaissance. Whether it’s Bennett Hall in Corvallis retracing the nuclear fallout from a local program that ended in 1972, or Eugene’s Dylan Darling examining a controversial repaving project, reporters are refusing to take “no comment” for an answer.

News outlets have always told us what happened. Technology now allows us to watch what’s happening. That may sharpen the focus on stories that have been hidden from view. If investigative and interpretive journalism can fill in those important cracks, we may be entering a golden age for media and citizens alike.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Uprooting Requiring Weeding

July 15th, 2016 · 2 Comments

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I spent an hour this morning weeding. Of course, I couldn’t do something boring like that without thinking about things. My first thought was how boring weeding can be — boring, but necessary. Well, only necessary if the weeds are not compatible with nearby plants, or people’s expectations, or my own pleasure as I pass by.

When I hike in the woods, I don’t feel the urge to pull up every thistle I see — only the one that is currently lacerating my leg. The particular will always be felt personally, but the general exists more easily as metaphor, conveying only expectations without any specifics.

For many years, I couldn’t manage my large back yard. I couldn’t even name all the particular enemies on my horticultural hit list. I finally found an instant solution. I stopped calling it my yard and christened it “my meadow.” Everything was better, all at once. Words can sometimes wield that much power.

Instead of cataloguing my nemeses, I watched the area evolve on its own, hoping the meadow might someday grow into a wildlife preserve. Ducks, deer, butterflies and bees!

So weeding hasn’t been a big part of my life. Last month a neighbor recommended native strawberries as ground cover in my modest front yard. For some reason, even late in the season, that sounded like a good idea.

Now, 102 bare-root plants and three bags of compost later, I care about the weeds. In this case, I find myself caring about particular weeds, one at a time, because they are too close to a strawberry shoot, tall enough to block sun, or bright enough to distract passersby.

I’ve been watering the area every day for a week, so the soil works easily. I’ve learned which weeds send deep roots and which prefer spreading laterally. I’m learning which tools and techniques work best for uprooting each. And then I began to wonder about how the metaphor has become separated from its literal meaning.

There’s been so much talk in the media lately about “uprooting.” I wonder when each of those people pontificating about social ills that need uprooting last held a trowel or spade in their hand. I don’t see dirt under their fingernails.

Racism, terrorism, cynicism — they are significant problems that must be addressed, but an hour of gardening suggests we add one more to the list: the isms themselves.

If you haven’t experienced your own race as a detriment, you may not understand racism the same way as someone who has. Terrorism is the abstract problem we’d all love to see addressed, as if it will save us from the particular moments of terror that every life faces. Cynicism is particular before it ever become pervasive.

The same technology that gave us military bombs also gave us commercial fertilizer. Nitrogen can be powerful for destruction and for growing, but it also removes us from the particulars. The same technology gave us pesticides, which have mostly replaced weeding and eliminated uprooting. Why tend to each plant when you can spread chemicals that will do mostly the same thing?

Here’s one reason why. There is a natural order of things. Plants are easier to figure out than people, but the tools and the rules are not much different. Learning to tend the soil and watch new plants take root can be inspiring. Learning to protect them from pests and other competitors can be instructive.

Weeding is boring. It’s quiet, thankless work. It requires patience and persistence. Conditions on the ground present specific challenges. Different tools work better in different circumstances. It’s never really complete, at least not in the real world. And it really only matters in some larger context that you’d like to effect or control.

What if we fail at uprooting our debilitating social strains because we no longer uproot the weeds in our own gardens? The skills and lessons learned in the ground are applicable to nurturing and growing a society. Wouldn’t it be terrible to discover that isolating nitrogen for manufacturing bombs was less harmful to society than using it as fertilizer to remove people from the land that feeds them?

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) blogs at www.dksez.com.

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The Problem of Pain Intolerance

July 15th, 2016 · No Comments

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America has a problem with pain killers, but focusing on pain relief is skipping a step. Opioid addiction is spiraling out of control, killing middle-aged women in trailer parks, rock legends in residential elevators, and all points in between.

In March the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued opioid prescription guidelines, hoping to stem the tide. The United States Congress appears poised to pass legislation that would assist efforts to curb opioid use and add new safety measures.

Efforts have focused on dissuading doctors from treating patients suffering from chronic pain with addictive opioids. Any resulting addiction can quickly become a more serious health hazard than the original malady. Decades of direct-to-consumer marketing and patient empowerment initiatives have cornered doctors into a lose-lose proposition.

If they give their patients the magic pills they believe will help them, they risk endangering that patient’s health and life. If they refuse their patients’ requests, they risk corporate discipline and possible reduction of federal funding, based on client satisfaction surveys.

Pain relief is a secondary problem. It overlooks the primary problem, which is pain itself. At the Olympic Trials, I saw a man wearing a U.S. Marines T-shirt with this message: “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” Author and theologian C.S. Lewis wrote an entire book about pain. He described pain as God’s “megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

What does it say about us that the pain hasn’t roused us, but the side-effects from making pain stop has? It may be the oldest doctor joke ever told: “Doc, it hurts when I do this!” prompts the reply, “Then don’t do that.”

That’s not what we want to hear. We want to keep doing everything we’re doing, even if it causes us pain. Except we don’t want the pain that comes with it. Why strengthen your muscles with exercise when steroids can have similar effects? Why give your heart and your joints less stress by losing weight, when pills can do the job with less effort?

Why face whatever pain you’re feeling when drugs are available to blunt or blur that pain? When we choose those easier paths, pain loses the opportunity to tell us something about our bodies, our selves, our life. Some of our efforts to lessen the pain can prevent us from learning the lesson of pain.

I recently asked outgoing Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy what she envisioned for herself next year and beyond. She confessed that her answer might sound hokey, but it was honest and fresh, since her birthday had been the day before. She cited Eugene as a great city for “aging in place” and she hopes to do just that, right here — enjoying what Eugene offers everyone. In that way, she’ll continue to be a leader.

I’ve learned from her and many others that facing death cannot be separated from embracing life.

We should acknowledge that chronic pain is a special problem, especially when there are no physical symptoms. If you twist your knee, a physician can stretch and poke it to better understand the source of the pain. Not so with chronic psychological pain, much less when the body and spirit are shouting together.

Self-reporting of symptoms is less reliable. There’s very little distance between feeling pain and feeling bad. Narcotics are notoriously good at muting both. Our techniques for treating people who feel pain too often make things worse for people who feel bad.

A pill might help a little, but saying “I’m sorry” or joining a bowling league or learning to swim could help a lot. Deeper remedies become also more distant when a pill promises to suffice. Once the pill’s limit is hit, the solution at hand — literally — is to take two.

And so it goes. The pain lessens, unless you count the mounting desperation. Asking for help could mean fewer pills, more pain, and still nothing is better.

All because we couldn’t stop to listen to the pain, to learn its lessons, to redirect our goals and effort toward better outcomes for ourselves and others. That’s the promise of pain.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) blogs at www.dksez.com.

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